Understanding Your Quiet Kids

Teacher, author, and keynote speaker Chrissy Romano Arrabito was the student who always raised her hand first, always had the answer, was eager to share, was well-behaved, and made good grades. She was, from any teacher’s perspective, a well-adjusted child. Little did most, if any, of her teachers realize, Chrissy was a quiet kid–an introvert. She struggled with her emotions constantly. How did her teachers miss this?

Are you misunderstanding your own quiet kids? Find out in this excerpt from Quiet Kids Count: Unleashing the True Potential of Introverts.

Introduction: A Message for Educators

A teacher sits in her rocking chair, her students gathered on the rug. She is reading aloud to the class, stopping to ask questions, and discussing the text. The same three students are the first to raise their hands each time, though other hands begin to pop up one by one. Some students look on, hang back, and just listen while another gazes out the window, appearing oblivious to anything that is happening at the moment.

Which student do you think is the introverted one? I bet most of you would be quick to say the students who are reluctant to respond or the child who appears to be daydreaming. Guess what? Any of those students could be an introvert, as you will soon see.

As a child, my parents would inevitably hear the same thing at every parent-teacher conference—a variation of: “She sure is a spirited one!” or “Participation isn’t an issue for her” or my mother’s personal favorite: “She needs to give others a chance once in a while.” Growing up, I was the student others wished would stop raising her hand and instead give the other kids a chance—and I was considered a robust and engaged student because of it.

Chrissy Romano Arrabito, author of Quiet Kids Count (Times 10, 2019)

Today, I am still the one who sits front and center and is usually the first to volunteer. Those who see me presenting at conferences, giving keynote addresses, and conducting professional development training aren’t surprised at these behaviors. However, most people don’t know that “striking first” is a coping mechanism I developed early on, and have maintained, to manage my anxiety in social situations.

If I made my contribution early on in a discussion, it took a massive weight off my shoulders. I could focus more on the lesson instead of the butterflies in my stomach, my racing heart, or my tapping foot—all telltale signs that the anxiety of possibly being the center of attention, if only for a moment, has taken hold.

To this day, if I want to add to a conversation, I have to do it early or forever hold my peace. Once it’s done, I can sit back, relax, and actually learn.

This “striking first” tactic is one I have been employing since elementary school, and is well-documented by social psychologists. I never complained about the perks that came with it, either. According to Susan Cain, an authority on introversion, “The ideas of people who speak up first in a group tend to carry the most weight.”

Since I was responding so quickly, teachers thought I was a diligent student and an active learner. This was not always the case, but perception superseded reality and worked to my benefit.

It wasn’t until I watched “The Power of Introverts,” a TED Talk by Cain, that I began to understand more about who I am and what I am all about. I now know that I am an introvert. Not exactly the classic stereotype of an introvert—who is generally thought to be shy and quiet—but what is known as a “restrained introvert.” This is one of the least-known types of introverts. We take time to warm up in social situations, but do enjoy being around people. “Reserved” is the perfect word to describe introverts like me.

My son is a different story. He is quiet and reflective. He sits back, watches, and listens, never the one to try new things or start a conversation. Christopher has been a textbook example of an introvert since he was born. His temperament began to emerge as a baby and during early childhood. He was more sensitive to stimuli such as loud noises and more cautious when presented with new toys and people. He is what is known as a “social introvert.” He prefers to be alone and keeps his social groups tight and close-knit. Social interaction drains him, and he prefers solitude over time spent with other people.

During holiday celebrations, he is most often found in his room, waiting out the craziness, or more recently at a family wedding, sitting off to the side with his earbuds in, trying to find solace from the high spirits and merriment of the day. Predictably, I now hear the same thing year after year at parent-teacher conferences: “He needs to participate more” and “He’s a smart kid, but I would like to see him add to class discussions.”

My usual response: “Have you tried to find another way for him to contribute other than raising his hand?” My husband and I see a different Christopher. Yes, he is indeed quiet at home. But he surprises us with his quick wit and curious mind when we least expect it. He is always observing and thinking when we don’t realize he is paying attention. As parents, we know that if the right environment is cultivated in school, his teachers and peers will also see what we adore in him.

Throughout the years, however, few teachers bothered asking why my son was so quiet and hesitant to share his thoughts. It wasn’t until his fourth grade year that a teacher helped him come into his own. What made this teacher special?

He took the time to talk with my son and get to know him personally, even though Christopher was quiet. The teacher made an effort to find ways for my son to contribute without being the center of attention. Now my son is in high school, and while he’s still my shy guy, he may raise his hand a few times a year without prompting. Progress!

So why am I sharing our stories? It has to do with you as a fellow educator. Another school year will begin, and a new batch of students will sit before you. No matter what grade level or content you teach, you will have them sitting in your room: the introverts, the quiet kids, and the not-so-quiet-but introverted-just-the-same kids.

They’re not troublemakers, and for the most part, they earn good grades. But these are the kids who tend to fade into the background unnoticed. They are the ones who are so often overlooked, or like me, misunderstood. We are doing a disservice to our introverted students, our quiet kids, by not seeing them for who they truly are.

To be the best teachers we can be, the best leaders of children, we need to understand our quiet kids, teach them, and nurture them. It behooves us to learn how to identify them and support them. We all have these quiet kids in our classrooms, as well as introverted colleagues down the hall or in the room next door.

Use this book as a guide to help you better understand the nature of all types of introverts, allay the many misconceptions, and gain useful tips and strategies for helping them reach their full potential.

Most importantly, use this book to become the best teacher and leader you can be, by working toward the better good for all children—especially your quiet ones.

Your Turn

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